What’s the difference between weather and climate?

They’re closely related, but weather and climate are not the same thing.

Is it raining or dry where you are today? Warm or cold? Windy or calm? Weather is what you see and feel in the short term. It is the mix of events that occurs every day in our atmosphere. Weather is usually talked about in terms of sunshine, cloudiness, humidity, rain and/or snow fall, temperature, wind, and visibility.

Weather happens in the troposphere—the layer of Earth’s atmosphere that is closest to the ground. (You can read more about the layers of the Earth’s atmosphere.)

In contrast, climate describes longer term trends and patterns in a specific location—for instance, Northland tends to be warmer and drier than the West Coast of the South Island. Climate often describes expectations for each season—such as expected amounts of rain and snow, temperatures (such as averages, highs and lows), humidity, predominant wind speeds and directions and frequency of extreme events such as cyclones or hurricanes.

When scientists talk about climate, they are typically referring to historical records and descriptions of average weather in a particular place. Climate statistics are normally derived from several decades' worth of data. You can view NIWA's climate summaries here.

Some people say that climate is what we expect, while weather is what we get.

On the annual snowline survey climate scientists collect data to support their research that tracks snow volume and glacier changes in the Southern Alps over several decades. [Photo: NIWA]